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First pages

Chapter One

 

San Francisco, California

May 7, 1903

 

“This simply will not do, Chef. The mornay sauce screams ginger when it should be whispering nutmeg. And did you think to slip that cardamom by me? It conspires with the gruyere to completely overwhelm the shrimp. Whatever were you thinking? You will have to start again.”

William Firestone watched from the doorway as his mother waved her hand over the offending pile of cream puffs. Chef Bertrand, normally an imposing figure in the estate’s kitchen, looked at Will in supplication. Couldn’t he do something?

Will shrugged. “You know how it is, Bertrand. Mother’s palate rules the day.”

The portly, French-trained chef turned again to his patron. “But madam, I have already had the filling inserted into the pastry. They—”

“Well, you will just have to unfill them. Or, no, that would never do. You’ll have to create a new batch, of both the puffs and the sauce. I insist.”

The sight of the huge man caving in deference to Will’s tiny whirlwind of a mother made Will grin. Not even the city’s finest creator of haute cuisine could withstand the imposing will of his little ol’ ma. He had an idea to ameliorate the situation. “Tell you what. Box up the offending creatures and I will take them downtown later this afternoon. I’m sure I can give them away, and those with slightly less discerning tastes will shout your praises to the rooftops.”

The chef looked at the pile with a frown. “But—”

“No buts, Chef. Willy has an excellent idea. Waste not, want not.” Josephine Firestone patted Will on the shoulder (she couldn’t reach his cheek) before sailing out of the kitchen.

Raising his eyebrows to signal Accept it, that’s just the way she is, Will followed his mother out the door. He turned back briefly and gestured to the doomed appetizers. “I’ll be leaving right after lunch, so if you’d be so kind …” He left the chef shaking his head, sighing in resignation.

“You will be coming to tonight’s festivities, won’t you, dear?” Will’s mother made her request in a tone that assumed there’d be only one answer to her question. “Kit will be there, of course.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Will replied automatically. No, he wouldn’t miss it. Wouldn’t miss this forgettable gathering, or the one next week, or the one after that. Not unless he was traveling, which he sincerely hoped he would be, soon. That was pretty much the only acceptable excuse—that, or a near-death illness—when it came to his parents’ never-ending social agenda. Both he and his younger sister, Kit, had learned long ago the requirements of keeping the family peace. But Jamie, their youngest sibling, had found his own solution to the problem. Instead of attending a local college or even the Firestone alma mater of Cornell, as Will had, he’d opted for the relatively new University of Southern California. Jamie’s occasional visits home were cause for celebration, and the bounder could do whatever he pleased. Smart young man.

“… and I was saying that Beatrice is such a lovely young lady. Buster Wainwright seems to think so, anyway. He’s been paying quite a bit of attention lately, or so I’ve heard. Clarence and Dinah will have no trouble marrying her off to the highest bidder, I can tell you that.”

Will realized he had completely tuned out his mother’s ramblings. “What were you saying, Mother?”

Josephine looked up at him. He recognized that speculative gleam in her eye. “I was saying how gorgeous Beatrice Marshall is and that she’ll be at tonight’s party with her parents.”

“My cup runneth over,” Will murmured. Beatrice Marshall was a pretty young woman, in a San Francisco Brahmin kind of way. Blond and blue-eyed, like he was, her skin was the pale shade of those who avoid the outdoors as much as possible. She had a figure that, judging by her mother, would probably run to “Rubenesque” over time. For now her breasts appeared high and full, her waist small, and her hips flared to an appealing degree. Ah, but how much of that was her and how much belonged to the magicians in the City of Paris lingerie department?

“And who knows what a mild spring night might conjure up for two young people thrown together by chance?” his mother went on.

Will snorted. “Beatrice coming to the party tonight is about as serendipitous as the tides rolling in and out. I’m on to your game.” Experience had taught Will that when his mother threw out accolades such as “she’s such a lovely young lady,” it was shorthand for “she has a pedigree worthy of the Firestone name.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His mother grinned at him, completely unrepentant. Her smile lit up her face with such beauty that Will was convinced it wasn’t her pedigree (which was formidable) but her joie de vivre that had captured his father’s heart. “Just be there,” she said crisply with another tap on his shoulder before turning down a long hallway and leaving him behind.

Will gave his mother’s retreating back a mock salute. With a quick glance at his pocket watch, he headed in the opposite direction, to his father’s study. The two men met weekly. Edward Firestone relied heavily on Will’s business acumen to keep the family fortune intact and growing; the older man’s interests tended more toward political power brokering. In that regard Will’s parents were perfectly suited for one another: his father loved putting movers and shakers together, and his mother loved entertaining them. Given his family’s social status, Will considered such engagements a necessary evil. But sometimes he wondered: was it possible to inflict death by boredom? He loved his parents, so he put up with their requests, but it was getting more and more difficult to do.

* * *

After reviewing some investment projections with his father, Will left his parents’ mansion in Pacific Heights, drove his Winton down the hill, and headed toward the Montgomery Street offices of Pacific Global Shipping, the new venture he’d started with August Wolff as part of their company, Wolfstone Enterprises. Gus and his fiancée, Lia Starling, were away on what Gus had termed a “working sabbatical” until their November wedding. Will was at the helm of Pacific Global during their absence.

Chinatown, which occupied several blocks in the heart of downtown San Francisco, stood between the tonier residential areas of the city and the financial district, where he worked. Many people found Chinatown an inconvenient eyesore, but today Will was glad to head through that enclave. He had to pick up some custom-made shirts, and what better place to drop off the box of leftovers Bertrand had made up for him?

It didn’t matter what time of day or night, Chinatown was always teeming with people, the vast majority of them Oriental men. Dressed in their traditional black padded jackets with stand-up collars, wide-legged pants, and bowler hats, wearing soft slippers and sporting long pigtails, they looked like they had all been stamped from the same eerie mold. It was difficult to tell one from another.

Will had gotten to know a few of the more influential members of the immigrant community, however. Back in March, he and Gus had brainstormed about marketing their new shipping company to the Chinese, who were discriminated against to a sickening degree by the rest of the city’s commercial elite. As a businessman, Will had never understood such behavior. A Chinaman’s money was just as green as anybody else’s. Why not get him to part with some of it by offering a decent service—in this case passage for him and his goods—for a reasonable price? To lay the groundwork for a marketing proposal he could sell to Pacific Global’s board of directors, he’d been gathering numbers on the potential extent of the market. By and large Will had found the Chinese to be intelligent, shrewd, and more than able to hold their own in a business setting, even if they were, to coin a phrase he’d read in the paper recently, “inscrutable.”

He parked in front of Suen Lok Choy’s Haberdashery on Washington Street. It was located in a rough clapboard building with a precarious-looking balcony hanging over the front door. On one side stood a noodle shop that Will had never tried; on the other, a Chinese apothecary who seemed to sell an abundance of dried and withered plants.

Suen, who looked to be in his forties, was an excellent tailor. On a colleague’s recommendation, Will had ordered a suit from the man. The suit fit perfectly, so today he was picking up several shirts he’d had customized to fit his tall, wiry frame. He figured Suen could also help him unload the box of leftover food, since they all seemed to be thick as thieves in this part of town. No sense having it go to waste, and there were no doubt plenty of immigrants who would love a sample of what the rest of the city ate. He figured it would put a good taste in their mouth for Pacific Global, and smiled at the pun.

“Mr. Firestone, it is pleasure to see you this fine day. How is your family?”

“Doing well, Suen, thank you.” Will hefted the box onto the long service counter. He noticed with some chagrin that the bottom of the box looked damp and the smell was less than appetizing. “I was wondering if some of your people might like some food we had prepared at our home earlier today. There was … extra … and I thought I’d bring some of it to share.”

“You are more than kind, Mr. Firestone.” Suen opened the box and Will was appalled to see that the cheesy sauce had soaked through and seeped out of most of the cream puffs, leaving them limp and soggy. The shrimp looked like little pink lumps of a creature that had died not once but twice.

“Oh,” Will said, for once at a loss for words.

Suen, whose initial reaction had been to squint and purse his lips at the offensive offering, quickly pasted on a smile and closed the lid back up. “No, it is fine. They look … delicious … much like our dim sum. You know dim sum, Mr. Firestone? Very tasty bites. Little plates.”

Will shook his head. “No, I’ve never tried it. I’m sure it’s delicious. Well …”

Suen took pity on him and changed the subject as he moved the box out of the way. He then reached under the counter and pulled out a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. “And your suit, Mr. Firestone? You still like?”

“Yes. Yes, you did a masterful job. I’ve gotten many compliments on it. I’m thinking I might want to order another one … in dark gray this time.”

The tailor smiled, squinting again, this time with delight. “I would be most honored to create another suit for you, which will go well with your new shirts. I have your measurements already and it would be no problem. It will be ready for you in three days’ time.”

He knows I’m just trying to make up for handing him a box of crap, Will thought ruefully. If he can make another sale, why not? Will smiled back. These Chinese were odd people, but they understood business, and Will liked that. A lot.

He spent some time selecting a lightweight woolen fabric for the suit, took his package of shirts, and left the still-grinning Suen waving to him in the doorway. Instead of driving off, he waited a few moments in his car. A perverse part of him wanted to see what Suen would do with the cream puffs. In less than five minutes he heard a door in the alley open and shut. He waited a beat, then sauntered over to the alley entrance. Halfway down the narrow cobbled lane was a heap of garbage that had just been crowned with a box whose bottom was dark with souring mornay sauce. He watched, fascinated, as two rats scurried over to examine the contents of their latest treasure chest. They crawled into the half-opened box and quickly emerged, each with a flattened cream puff in their mouth. They looked quite happy with their discovery.

He returned to his car and headed to his office, the image of the rats stuck in his mind. An odd feeling percolated through him, and it was several minutes before he was able to identify it as shame. Had someone done to him what he had just done to his tailor, he would have been insulted, with good reason.

When it came right down to it, who were these foreigners? According to most of the papers, virtually all Chinese were disgusting, immoral heathens, living filthy lives in even filthier conditions. They were a blight on civil society and should all go back to China where they belonged.

But it didn’t add up. Suen was a talented, honest tradesman. His shop was always clean, and he was more than “civilized.” Was he so different from the rest of his countrymen?

Will faced the truth: he really knew nothing about these strange people. If he was going to do business with them, he’d better start educating himself … and he knew just the person to help him do it.

Chapter Two

Mandy’s Journal

May 13, 1903

 

I think if someone ever asks me what I remember most about the day my pa died, I will have to say the heat. An awful, sickly heat that mixed with the damp of the bay to create a glue that clung to my body and made me want to peel my shirtwaist off in front of God and everybody, just to feel cool again. I was rocking Sarah’s baby Bridget on Sarah’s front porch, hoping the meager shade and gentle to and fro would keep Little Bit from fussing too long before she drifted off to sleep. I remember seeing the rider barreling down the street, out of a shimmering dream, it seemed. And he was calling my name, of all things, as he headed right toward where I sat.

“Mandy! Mandy! You gotta come quick—it’s your pa!” It was Jacob Turner, sweet on me since forever, shouting at me.

“Hush now, Jacob,” I told him. You’ll wake the baby.” Only he didn’t hush, but pulled sharply on the reins, causing Old Buck, who was already heaving, to rear up so he wouldn’t gallop right up onto the steps.

Sarah came out from putting her twin boys down for their nap and asked what all the fuss was about. Jacob told her, “They been fellin’ trees up in Sinner’s Grove and one clipped Mandy’s pa. He’s hurt bad and he’s askin’ for her. Foreman says I’m to bring her straight away.”

And right that second, the heat left me, and in its place came a wave of cold that traveled down my spine to settle into the core of me, icy and mean.

The next little while was a blur, riding behind Jacob on Old Buck back up the hill. We got to the building site, where the tall trees had been cut here and there to make room for the tiny houses that Mr. Wolff wanted built. Pa was lying in the back of a wagon near the office, flat on his back, and nothing moved except his head. And there wasn’t any blood but a scratch on his chin, and I remember thinking, it’s not so bad.

But it was bad, and Pa drew me down to him with just his eyes and he whispered, “My Mandy girl, I’ve got to leave you.”

And I cried, “No, Pa—then I’m all alone. You can’t leave me.”

But he shook his head just a little and said, “That’s the way it is, little girl. I got to go. I get to be with your sweet mama. But it ain’t your time, so you gotta be strong. You remember to do what’s right always and use that book learnin’ you love so much to be what you want to be and do what you want to do. You keep writin’ them stories about all the people and the funny things they do. You keep going. Promise me that, Mandy girl.”

And the tears were runnin’ down my cheeks like a flood and I wondered if there would be creases in my face, like the river carves a canyon, from so many tears.

They laid my daddy to rest two days later. They dug a grave next to my mama, and the village of Little Eden all turned out in their Sunday clothes, even though it was only Thursday. And they sang lots of hymns, but I only remember “Be Thou My Vision” and “Amazing Grace” because those had been my pa’s favorites.

The heat wave ended, they told me, and that made sense because I stayed cold all through that time. I wanted to go back to the little mud-brick house that Pa and I had lived in just on the outside of town, but Sarah and her husband Dell said no, I was too young to live by myself. It’s not safe for someone who looks like you, Dell said, to be alone and unprotected. Sarah told me I was a darn good mother’s helper, that I had a way with babies and little ones—Bridget and the boys loved me so much. So I could stay with them for a year or two, until I was old enough to get married and live with my man.

But I don’t think Dell really wants me stayin’ with them. It’s just a feelin’ I get. So I’m not sure what to do about it all. Right now, I wish I could just sleep for a week, and maybe when I wake up, the sadness will have found a nice comfortable chair in the back of my mind and leave me be.

Chapter Three

“You’re a sport to come with me, Kit.” Will glanced at his sister, Katherine, who was sitting next to him on the buckboard. “I’m not looking forward to this.”

Several days after their parents’ latest soirée, Will got the word about the accident up at The Grove. He and Kit had left early that morning for Little Eden, taking the ferry from the city across San Francisco Bay to Sausalito, then booking seats on the North Shore Railroad to Point Reyes Station. From there they’d rented a horse and wagon and were now approaching the village. Kit, as usual, looked like the perfect San Francisco socialite, despite the dusty travel conditions.

“I’m sad to say I had nothing better to do,” she replied. “I swear, I ought to get married just to have something to do with my time.”

“God, don’t do that,” Will said with mock horror. “That would give Mother twice the time to think about leg-shackling me.”

Kit smiled. “You’re right. Plus she’d only switch to ‘baby watch’ with me anyway. We can’t escape it, you know. Ugh, parents.”

Will’s own grin died as he thought about what had led them here. “At least we have them.”

“The accident wasn’t your fault,” Kit reminded him.

“Yes, but it happened on my watch, and now there’s a little girl who’s lost her daddy. What on earth am I supposed to say to her? To his wife? ‘Sorry my crew killed the man of the house’? Seems rather inadequate.”

“Yes, well I’m sure you’re going to compensate them handily for their loss.”

Will looked at her. “You really think that’s going to make a damn bit of difference to them at this point?”

Kit shook her head, the honey-colored curls beneath her wide-brimmed hat swinging slightly. “No, but it will make you feel better knowing they won’t end up in the poorhouse because of something you think you could have prevented … even though you couldn’t have.” She poked him gently on the shoulder. “Not even you, Mr. Fix-it.”

Will said nothing as they rode slowly along Little Eden’s main street. The community was set along the shore of Creation Bay, much smaller than San Francisco, but still teeming with oysters, sardines, and other seafood to satisfy the gastronomical whims of the city’s restaurant patrons. It was a place for fishermen, shopkeepers, and good country folk to live and work.

They passed a number of tidy storefronts along with the bulwarks of civic virtue: a combination city hall and jail, a lending library, and a small white church. Naturally, more than one saloon was also open for business.

A few modest houses populated the far end of the street. On the front porch of one such house, a tall, thin girl stood holding a baby in her arms. She had large eyes and she watched them intently as they rode past. She’s way too young to be a mother, he thought crossly. What are they, cradle robbers in this town? He paused, recognizing his pique for what it was—a defensive maneuver. He had to handle this situation without losing his temper, and was glad Kit would be there to help him do that.

At the end of Little Eden proper, they turned onto a road that began to wind its way up the hill overlooking the village. The trees began to change from coastal oaks and smooth-skinned manzanita to Bishop pine and spruce. Finally the majestic redwoods that had drawn his business partner to the site came into view. Will could smell the sea and the evergreens. He could feel the snap in the air, as if God were saying Stand up! Take notice! I have made few things more beautiful than this! It felt so pristine compared to the manmade city, which made the worker’s death all the more incomprehensible. How could bad things happen in such a lovely place?

The road led to the property Gus had purchased the previous year. “They call this place Sinner’s Grove,” Will explained to Kit.

She shot him a devilish look. “Do tell the story behind that one.”

“I don’t know the details, but supposedly it involves a Catholic monk, a local girl, and some fun and frolic. Oh, and a little magic, they say.”

“Hmm, I’ve heard with the right person, the act can be quite magical,” she said wistfully.

“I’m going to cover my tender ears, sister dear. You’re not supposed to even be thinking such things.”

Kit busied herself smoothing her skirt. “Have I told you how glad I am that our mother can’t read minds?”

Will pulled the wagon up to the small, hastily-built cabin that housed The Grove’s construction office. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that … but thank you for trying to distract me with such an appalling idea.”

August Wolff had embarked on an ambitious, complicated project with The Grove. It consisted of a spectacular Arts and Crafts-style mansion for Gus and Lia, which would break ground once the Wolffs returned from their travels. Designed by the well-known Greene Brothers, it was destined to become a showplace of modern, comfortable living that melded perfectly with bold design. In addition, the land would encompass a year-round retreat at which artists of every style and medium could create to their hearts’ content. The whole endeavor would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which fortunately wasn’t a problem for its owners. Will had gladly volunteered to oversee the clearing of the land in preparation for construction. Now, however, he was sorry he’d botched the job.

“I’m glad you could make it so quickly.” The project foreman walked up as Will settled the horses. A stocky, middle-aged man, he extended his hand in greeting.

Will hopped down and shook the man’s hand. “Abe, this is my sister, Katherine Firestone. Kit, I’d like you to meet Abrahan Castro, the project foreman for The Grove.”

“It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Castro,” Kit said.

Abe doffed his cap in deference. “Ma’am.” He helped her down from the buggy then addressed his words to Will. “I’m having Dell bring Mandy up here in a little while. She’s been staying with him and Sarah, helping Sarah mind the kids, and he wants a word with you privately before you leave.”

Will glanced at Kit, perplexed. “Is there some reason why Mandy and her mother aren’t staying at their own home?”

“That’s a sad story,” Abe said. “Come on inside and I’ll put some tea on for you. Fill you in.”

After they were settled, Abe continued. “There ain’t no mother, for starters. Not since Mandy was five years old, poor little thing. It was just her and her dad. I’ll tell you what, that Mose was one hard worker. Worked his tailbone off for that little gal. Two, three jobs sometimes. He had it in his mind that she’d go to finishing school some day and get herself married off to some fine young man.” Abe chuckled. “When you meet Mandy, you’ll see the folly in that. She got a mind of her own, that one. Says she wants to be a writer and tell stories about the people she meets.”

Abe paused, worrying the brim of his cap. “I wouldn’t put it past her, you know? There’s something special about that gal. You’ll see. But now she’s got nobody left in these parts, and that’s a damn shame—pardon my French, ma’am.”

“How did the accident happen?” Kit asked.

Abe shrugged his shoulders. “I think sometimes Fate just slaps you down. Mose was on clean-up while we was fellin’ a few of the big trees. We followed the rules, if that’s what you’re wonderin’. Odie and Vern blew the whistle to let everybody know she was comin’ down. But she had a big hefty branch you couldn’t see from every angle and that’s what caught Mose. Broke his neck. He didn’t last long.”

“Are you sure you followed all the safety precautions?” Will asked. “Because if you didn’t …”

Abe looked Will straight in the eye. “As sure as I am of sittin’ here with you, I know we did everything by the book. You can’t predict what’s going to happen in this world. No sir, you can’t. Sometimes shit—pardon, ma’am—bad things happen. Or maybe it’s just God’s way, and who can fathom that?”

There was a knock on the door. “Come on in,” Abe said.

The door opened and Dell Butler, a man who appeared to be in his mid to late twenties, stood there with the same young girl Will had noticed on the front porch earlier. He was relieved to know it wasn’t her own baby she’d been holding. Because up close she looked even younger than before.

She was tall for a girl and almost skinny—gawky came to mind—with long auburn hair tied back in a braid. She wore a blue gingham dress with a white collar. It had a hem that didn’t quite match. Will suspected it might have been taken from something else—a flour sack, maybe?—to lengthen the outfit. She wore white socks and old-fashioned black button shoes. In most respects she presented as a poor, awkward girl just barely out of the schoolroom.

Except for her face. It was perfectly oval with flawless skin. Her cheeks had a rosy tint to them, her lips were full, and her neck was graceful. But her eyes were the most arresting of all. They were dark and shaped like almonds, tilted up at the corners, framed by thick eyebrows that drew one’s eyes toward hers. Her expression was intense; wary; knowing, but in no way cynical. Almost otherworldly. She unnerved him and he felt small for being distracted from the tragedy she was suffering through. He glanced at his sister and saw that she too was mesmerized.

“Miss Mandy, this here is Mr. Will Firestone and his sister, Miss Katherine Firestone. And they are here to see to your welfare, on account of they represent the owner, Mr. August Wolff, who owns the land your daddy died on.”

“I know,” Mandy said in a small, clear voice. “Dell told me. I am very pleased to meet you.”

The girl had poise, he’d give her that. “How old are you, Miss Culpepper?” Will asked.

“I just turned fifteen in March, sir,” she replied. “And how old might you be?”

Abe Castro looked abashed. “Now, Mandy girl, that’s not a polite thing to be asking.”

She looked puzzled. “Why, it must be polite, Mr. Castro, because Mr. Firestone asked it of me and he is a polite gentleman, isn’t he? Aren’t you, Mr. Firestone?”

Will fought hard to keep a neutral expression. This girl was a pip. “I try to be, Miss Culpepper. And to answer your question, I am twenty-seven.” He looked at the others and shrugged. She had him dead to rights.

Mandy looked from one to the other but settled those enigmatic eyes on Will. “I know you and your sister are kind people who want me to have a roof over my head, and I thank you for that. But I have my own roof and I don’t need another one.”

“Do you mean you want to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Butler?” Kit asked.

“No, ma’am. Dell here is a good man and he wants to stay that way, and I respect him for it. I’m talking about my own house, the house my pa and me lived in for as long as I can remember.”

Will shot a look at Dell, who was fidgeting like mad. He looks like his union suit’s about three sizes too small. What’s his story?

“Ah, you reckon we can talk without Mandy bein’ here?” Dell asked. “I got somethin’ I need to say.”

Everyone looked embarrassed until Mandy spoke up. “I would like to see the spot where my pa got hit by the tree, if that’s all right with you, Mr. Castro.”

“You sure you want to do that, little gal?”

“Yes sir, I do.” The look on the girl’s face was calm, assured. She didn’t look like she was going to melt any time soon. Will, on the other hand, wanted to weep for the girl who remained so composed in the face of such unbearable sadness.

Dell wasted no time after Castro and Mandy left the cabin. “I can’t have her in my house,” he blurted out.

Will bristled. The nerve of this man. He probably wanted money. “Look, Mr. Butler, if it’s about money, I can assure you—”

“It ain’t about the money, it’s about the girl,” he said. “Look at her, won’t you? She’s like a temptress—”

Kit looked at the man as if he’d gone insane. “What in the blazes are you talking about? Are you saying she’s … she’s …”

“… made advances toward you?” Will finished Kit’s question with a dose of incredulity to match his sibling’s.

“Hell, no,” Dell said. “Mandy would never do such a thing. It’s not in her nature. But … but I fear it may be in mine.” The young man glanced at Kit, shame reddening his face. “Look, I’m a God-fearin’ man. I got a pretty little wife and three good kids. But I’m human. And the Good Book says we got to keep ourselves away from temptation whenever we can. We got to put up guardrails against the Devil. I’m not sayin’ Mandy’s the Devil, I never would. But I’m sayin’ you can’t spend too much time with her and not see how doggone beautiful she is.”

“For God’s sake, she’s just a child.” Will’s tone was sharper than he intended. “She’s not even grown up yet.”

“Exactly,” Dell said. “So it’ll be even worse once she gets there. She’s been such a help for Sarah and the kids, and I hate like hell to lose her, but I gotta look out for me and my family.”

The three of them sat there for several awkward minutes. Kit regarded Dell with a thoughtful expression. “Does your wife know you feel this way, Mr. Butler?”

“No, ma’am, she does not. She would probably kill me if she did. But Mandy does. You heard her. We’ve never said a word about it, but she just knows. It’s spooky.”

“Well, I admire you,” Kit said. “You’re doing what you think is best for your family, even though it’s a difficult decision to make.”

“So what do you intend to do about it?” Will posed the question even though he already knew the answer. Dell, like everybody else in this situation, knew that Will was responsible for what had happened to Mandy’s father, and would therefore be responsible for what happened to her. The problem was, Will had no idea what to do. Which is why he was shocked by what Kit said next.

“Don’t you worry, Mr. Butler. I will take responsibility for Mandy. As her new guardian, I will personally see to it that she’s well taken care of. Isn’t that right, Will?”

The look Kit shot him gave Will no recourse but to agree. “Uh, yes. Yes, of course.”

His sister beamed. “Well, gentlemen, let’s get down to details.”

* * *

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A California native and long time promotional writer, I decided in 2013 (finally!) to write the novels I like to read, where characters face hardships, but triumph in the end. My stories pit men and women against forces ranging from merely corrupt to downright evil. But their greatest challenges seem to be overcoming their own flaws as they search for fulfilling lives and lasting love. Isn’t that true for all of us? I now live in Boise, Idaho with my husband and two adorably neurotic dogs.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
We all have preconceived notions of what’s acceptable and therefore what’s attractive to us. It takes a lot to get us out of our comfort zones. But if we’re willing to step off the path and explore a totally new place or culture or relationship, we open ourselves to all kinds of personal growth.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
I researched the Chinese immigrant community and culture in San Francisco at the dawn of the 20th century, the city’s art scene during that time, and even the Bubonic Plague. I’ve woven many historical facts into the story. I want to entertain readers, and share what I've learned as well.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
This stand-alone novel is part of a dual-genre series, “Sinner’s Grove,” which chronicles the family and friends of a world-famous artists’ retreat on the northern California coast. The stories follow both historical and contemporary tracks, and can be read separately or together for greater depth.

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Literature & Fiction
The Church of Conventional...
Wisdom is skin-deep
Liberty Street: A Novel of...
Can women find love during the Civil War?
The Lunar Conspiracy
Unraveling the mysteries of the past